It’s therefore no surprise that volume expectations are fairly modest, with a predicted 5,000 to 6,000 sales in its first full year. The upper-medium sector is suffering as buyers opt for niche products such as MPVs or SUVs, so it was always going to be a challenge for Fiat to bring something new to the party.
So the Croma sits somewhere between a compact MPV and an estate (Fiat calls it a ‘comfort-wagon’) and while it believes it will be a unique proposition for buyers, it also has the potential to fall into a blind spot, being neither one thing nor the other. Fiat is certainly playing a dangerous game. Other big manufacturers have failed attempts to redefine the traditional upper-medium car.
But it says the Croma differs from Vauxhall’s Signum because it’s not as long, and it’s a bit taller, and it will be cheaper. And it’s different from Renault’s Vel Satis, because Fiat reckons people will want one.
Suspension of disbelief may be required before you can swallow either argument, but on paper at least, the Croma looks like a step forward.
It shares the latest Vectra’s underpinnings and offers five Euro IV-compliant engines – 1.8 and 2.2-litre petrols and three diesels (all fitted with maintenance-free particulate filters as standard) – two 1.9s and a 2.4-litre Multijet with 200bhp and nearly 300lb-ft of torque.
At launch there will be just the three engines: the two 1.9-litre diesels and the 2.2-litre petrol, with the 1.8 petrol and 2.4 diesel arriving next January.
The Giugiaro-designed bodywork is perhaps best described as eclectic. It works well from certain angles, but Fiat’s latest corporate face is uninspiring and you certainly won’t draw jealous glances in the rush-hour crawl.
At least it’s practical, offering 1,610 litres of carrying capacity with the rear seats folded away, and seating for five (although three adults may be uncomfortable over long distances in the back).
Fiat thinks these attributes will be irresistible to both heads and hearts among fleet users with children when the Croma comes here in August.
UK prices and specification levels have yet to be confirmed, but prices in Italy begin at €23,200 (£16,500). If UK prices are similar, the Croma will undercut the entry-level Signum by £2,000 and put ‘quirkily individual’ within reach of more fleet drivers.
Behind the wheel
FIAT believes 70% of UK sales will be diesels, so our first drive is in the 120bhp 1.9-litre oil burner. Despite Fiat having raised it 10cm above the height of a typical upper-medium car, it’s still no lofty MPV or SUV driving position. But the seats offer loads of adjustment, while the high roof and good all-round legroom make for plenty of interior space.
Five square metres of glass area provide good all-round visibility, and the smooth, progressive brakes are excellent. Noise insulation and cabin materials are much improved, too, and there’s a distinct lack of squeaks and rattles on the move.
The Croma’s well-balanced ride and composed handling are strong points.
Momentum is carried easily through corners, while the speed-sensitive power steering works well, matching sensitivity to circumstance.
Unfortunately, the manual six-speed gearbox has a long, imprecise action which makes locating each ratio difficult.
It’s still a better option than the automatic, however. Even mated to the 150bhp diesel, the auto hinders proceedings. And despite having six ratios to play with, you’ll often disagree with its choice of the most appropriate gear. Sequential mode won’t liven things up noticeably, either.
The petrol engines are more refined, but performance is similar, while emissions and fuel consumption both suffer. So the manual 150bhp 1.9-litre diesel is likely to be most popular as there’s a noticeable hike in torque and throttle response over the less powerful version.
THE Croma is a competent effort. Build quality is improved, the car handles well and it’s comfortable on the motorway. Fiat will have to hope that acceptability in most areas is better than notable excellence in just a few. The modest sales target should be achieved, but is the Croma just another answer to the question nobody ever asked?
|Model:||2.2 MPI||1.9 Multijet||1.9 Multijet 16v|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||147/5,800||120/4,000||150/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||150/4,000||207/2,000||236/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||130||121||130|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||32.8||46.3||46.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||204||160||161|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||62/13.6||62/13.6||62/13.6|